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[Review of The House Behind the Cedars]

The tragedy of 'The House behind the Cedars' is one for which the strongest literary presentation would fail to excite unquestioning sympathetic horror. A great many persons of kind and generous sentiment believe that a white man breaking his engagement to marry a woman who has left him to discover by accident that she has a strain of negro blood, is morally and rationally justified and without dishonor. Such an opinion does not necessarily shield itself behind law and custom, but may be rooted in natural antipathies and a belief that, for the happiness of the individuals and the good of society, such an engagement is better broken than kept. Within the limitations imposed by this point of view, the chief situation of Mr. Chesnutt's novel makes a strong appeal to emotion. While he leaves no doubt about his own judgment or feeling, he does not exaggerate iniquities or hurl recriminations. He probably has but faint hope of upsetting social beliefs, and indeed the catastrophe suggests that such tragedies as the sacrifice of Rena Walden seem to him inevitable, therefore all the more pitiful. As in his shorter stories of his own people, Mr. Chesnutt shows here frank recognition of racial difference, yet, seeing both black and white through a fine literary temperament, is not concerned to set one against the other either for praise or disparagement. He has an easy, educated way of telling a tale; and a special interest in the "negro question" is not at all necessary for enjoying his work, or for deriving an æsthetic pleasure from his sincerity, simplicity, and restrained expression of deep feeling.